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SCOTIA – Two Class B heavyweights went toe-to-toe Wednesday night at Mekeel Christian Academy.


Carter Stewart hit the go-ahead free throw with 29 seconds left, and then he came up with a big defensive play at the other end of the court to help the Lions (10-1) defeat Watervliet 65-63 in a non-league game.


“It was a great high school game,” said Mekeel coach Chad Bowman. “Both teams were playing really good defense tonight.”


“It was a hard-fought game” said Watervliet coach Orlando DiBacco. “They are a very good basketball team. I don't think classification matters.”


After being honored for scoring his 1,000th career point in a pregame ceremony, it was Stewart's heads-up play with 10.8 seconds left that gave Mekeel an opportunity to pull out the win. The senior dove on a loose ball and called time out before a Watervliet player could tie him up and create a jump ball situation.



“We were screaming for a timeout, but there was no way he could have heard us over the noise,” said Bowman. “There was no way he could hear anyone but the player next to him.”


Senior guard Jordan Jackson made one of two free throws with 5.7 seconds left to put Mekeel ahead by two points. Watervliet had one last chance to tie or win the game, but JJ Chestnut's driving layup attempt rolled off the rim into Daniel McCarty's hands.


“It was just our defense and our grit tonight,” said Jackson, who led Mekeel with 20 points.


Neither team had much breathing room. The largest lead on either side was eight points, when Mekeel jumped out to a 22-14 lead late in the first quarter. Stewart scored Mekeel's first five points, but it was Jackson and Deonte Holder hitting back-to-back three-pointers that helped the lead swell to where it did.


Watervliet (8-3) got its high-powered offense in gear in the second quarter. Senior forward Joey Atkins jump-started the attack by scoring the Cannoneers' first nine points of the period. Then, junior Khari Croley drained a three-pointer to cap a 12-0 run that put Watervliet in front 32-28. Croley added a long jump shot and banked in a three-pointer at the buzzer to give the Cannoneers a 42-37 halftime lead.


“I think our defense fuels our offense,” said DiBacco. “Our defense played very well in the second quarter, and that got our transition game going.”


Jackson and Holder kept Mekeel in the game in the second quarter, while Stewart concentrated on distributing the ball. Jackson bookended Watervliet's 12-0 spurt with three-pointers, and Holder made a couple of tough shots down the stretch to keep the Lions within striking distance.


“For us seniors, the whole team looks to us when things are going tough for us,” said Jackson.


Stewart was having trouble getting open looks for shots in the first half, but his ability to get the ball into the hands of his teammates in the first half was as critical as what he did in the second half.


“One of the most important things we nail every day in practice is distributing the ball,” said Stewart. “We spend a lot of time working on our passing.”


Mekeel came out strong in the third quarter by scoring the first five points to tie the score at 42-42. Watervliet battled back and built a 52-46 lead, but the momentum turned when Stewart hit a three-pointer as he was fouled with 1:48 left in the period. Stewart missed the free throw, but it sparked an 8-1 run for Mekeel that put the Lions in front 54-53. Stewart scored seven of the eight points during the spurt.


“Mekeel came out and set the tone in the third quarter,” said DiBacco. “I think we responded well, We played back and forth with the lead.”


The lead changed hands six times in the fourth quarter, with Holder sinking a pivotal three-pointer for Mekeel that put the Lions ahead 61-59. Watervliet tied the score twice down the stretch, but the Cannoneers could not regain the advantage.


The trio of Jackson, Stewart and Holder combined to score 55 of Mekeel's 65 points. Besides Jackson's 20-point performance, Stewart had 19 points and Holder added 16 points.


Atkins led Watervliet with 20 points, and Croley chipped in with 11 points off the bench.